WBOC 25th Anniversary – the journey begins
Over the first weekend in May members of the Wilderness Boat Owners Club will get together to celebrate the Club’s 25th anniversary.
The gathering will start at Pewsey Wharf, followed by a cruise to Devizes on Saturday. On Sunday morning there will be a descent of the Caen Hill flight, finishing with a meal at the Barge at Seend in the evening.
Many members will travel to the start of the event from all over the country in true Wilderness style by trailing their boats to the event and launching them on slipways on the Kennet & Avon canal but 3 boats have today (22-04-2014) started a cruise to the event from Oxford. These being Arwyn, Just Because and Tophyl.
Tophyl in fact started from Lechlade on Sunday 20-04-2014, which is appropriate as Wilderness boats originally had some of the original camping boats based in Lechlade. It is hoped to add further information of the event as we progress towards it.
The boats broke the journey for lunch at Abingdon and finished for the day at Clifton Hampden, just upstream of the beautiful brick bridge. The day was topped off with dinner at the Barley Mow.
Wed 23rd April
The day started bright, with a quick walk into the beautiful thatched village of Clifton Hampden. Travelling downstream on the fairly fast flowing stream, with the now shutdown Didcot coal fired power station in the distance. A view that will soon change with the projected demolition of 3 of the 6 cooling towers in the summer.
With a lunch break at Wallingford, we visit the town and a few of the charity shops and antique arcades. Then on down the river chasing or being chased by 4’s and 8’s. On the way out of Wallingford we look for where the Maidboats hire base used to be but again failed to find it.
As the afternoon progresses the weather deteriorates and we tie up at Pangbourne as the rain comes in heavier. We eat together on one of the boats near the end of the meal, as the rain eases, the sun comes out for a short while before setting.
Thurs 24th April
A misty morning but with weatherman promising sun later on we set off from Pangbourne meadow downstream. We checked out a couple of slipways on the way into Reading in case the K&A proved impassible. A mandatory stop to fill up with fuel and provisions at Tesco.
After lunch we cruised around into the K&A and up to Blake lock. The river flow was strong so we tied up and then walked up to see what the flow was like down through the Oracle. During this period CRT rang in reply to our query on flow levels and said it was fine and boats were moving through it.
We decided that we would go through Blake’s lock and moor for the night in the Prison loop and tackle the Oracle in the morning.
Fri 25th April
Trains, boats and automobiles!!
We woke to the sound of heavy rain on the roof as it got light. As this continued until 10am and with a poor forecast and our rain radar app showing more rain coming out of France, it caused us all to revisit our decision to proceed by water.
This especially, as the water appeared to be flowing quicker past our boats as it was being added to from channels and drains around us.
After a few phone calls, help from Peter Huish, (Thanks Peter), and inspection of 2 slipways at Reading, we organised the transfer by Tophyl’s car/ trailer of all 3 boats between Reading Marine Services and Greenham lock island marina in Newbury.
The only problem being Tophyl’s car/trailer were in Semington and we were in Reading!!
So a walk in the rain to the newly rebuilt Reading station, followed by a busy 125 Inter City train trip down to Chippenham. The rain was still falling as we passed wet and bedraggled fields and some flooded streets in Didcot and Swindon.
Then a taxi ride to collect the car/trailer at Semington followed by a wet and misty journey back up the busy M4 to Reading. We dropped the trailer at Reading Marine Services who had helpfully left their gates open for us.
We then used just the car to drop off crew in the middle of the rush hour on Caversham bridge to bring Tophyl back upstream, together with Arwyn and Just Because.
As they arrived at Reading Marine Services, the rain finally cleared away and the sun briefly shone through the odd blue patch of sky.
We had a thought we could slip Tophyl tonight but we were damp and supper on Arwyn was calling, so a busy day is on the horizon for tomorrow. How many boats can we shift in a day is the question?
No pictures of rain just our sunny sunset!
Sat 26th April
Deja vu again and again!
Woke early to more rain but by the time to get up, 7am for Tophyl’s crew, it had mostly stopped. Preparations were soon underway to get the boat ready for towing. Then as we puttered over to the slipway at 8am, someone arrived to unlock the gates. By 9am we had slipped and the boat was lashed down and we were on our way. Following our Tom Tom Sat Nav we started to cut across from Oxford Rd to the A4 only to be presented with a 20mph zone guarded by a 6’6″ width restriction! Quick calculation, we have a 6″10″ boat on a trailer with wheels wider than the boat=it won’t fit!! Luckily we were on a roundabout so a quick reverse course and back the way had come and then we followed the reverse route we had used the afternoon before. The distance between Reading and Newbury was not far, 1 junction on the M4 and Peter Huish’s directions beat my Tom Tom hands down in how to get to the slipway in Newbury and weave the trailer through the marina site to the slipway.
Whilst the slipway is tight it worked fine and Tophyl was soon afloat and moved on to the public moorings opposite the marina. Setting up the trailer with goal posts and trailer board for going in the opposite direction and we were so on our way back.
Twice more we loaded and slipped boats and did the run from Reading to Newbury. It always seemed to rain when we loaded the boats on to Tophyl’s trailer and the sun came out when we slipped back in again in Newbury A good omen? We hope so!
The river Thames looked much faster as we finally left than it did first thing. Email had also been busy today as we had 3 warnings from EA as red boards started to appear and by the end of the day there were more red boards than yellow “stream increasing” along the length of the river. A good job we were off it, it appears!
Interestingly at Newbury we met a couple off a narrowboat that had passed us going upstream as we waited below Blake’s lock two days ago. They said we were very wise not to attempt the trip from Reading on the K&A as they had a horrendous trip, with their steel narrowboat being thrown about in strong cross streams. The Oracle was easy compared to places like Woolhampton, where they nearly lost control of their boat.
We have to record our grateful thanks for the help provided at Reading Marine Services. They left the gates open past closing time so we could get in and park the car/trailer and allowed us to moor opposite the slipway overnight. Thanks Guys.
Also Pat at Newbury was also most accommodating and patient as not one or two but three boats arrived through the day to slip on his slipway.
Finally by 7pm we were all watered and tied up opposite the marina and ready for a pub meal. And very good it was too!
Tomorrow we just need to take the car/trailer back to Semington before we resume our journey westwards.
Pictures of boats waiting to be launched or to be cleared from the slipway at Newbury
Finally a trailer at rest after a busy days work!
Sunday 27th April
Long journeys, short cruises.
Woken at 3am by the now easily recognised sound of rain hammering on the roof, which seemed to go on for hours. The time slowly past and as it did so the irrational thought started to build in our minds, (as they can do in the middle of the night), that if we can’t get through the town bridge due to flood water we might have to do another super trailer shift from Newbury to Pewsey. Of course, as we rose for breakfast the rain had stopped and it didn’t look too bad.
However as Tophyl’s crew left their boat to walk back to Newbury Marina to collect the car/trailer to return it to its temporary base at Semington, it started to rain again!
An easy run back down the A4 via Hungerford and Marlborough, and passing Caen Hill at Devizes on the way to Semington, we arrived you guessed it, in the rain.
A fast park and an equally quick taxi trip to Westbury railway station, didn’t stop us missing the direct train back to Newbury by a couple of minutes. So after a check with a handy ticket inspector that our £11 “super saver” tickets were valid on the proposed route, we boarded a train to Bath Spa via other K&A structures at Bradford upon Avon, Avoncliff and Dundas. A quick change of platform to catch a “125” back to Reading followed by another quick change to catch a stopping train back to Newbury. All this this to get back to Newbury 15 minutes faster than the next direct train from Westbury to Newbury. But by doing it, we had managed to visit both ends of the Kennet and Avon canal in just over an hour. A speed just slightly faster than by canal!
As we walked up through Newbury (in the rain) we went to check the town bridge and lock to see how fast the water was flowing. The answer was fast, especially from the right by the Lock, Stock and Barrel pub. After a quick bit of shopping we walked back along the towpath to our boats.
A quick consultation with the other skippers confirmed we were going to get through the town bridge and lock this afternoon. We dispatched our spare crew member to the lock to ensure no one was coming down and to prepare it for the boats.
As we got ready to leave, another Wilderness boat arrived on its trailer at the marina. This was Grey Owl. They are planning to do the town lock run tomorrow.
We got confirmation that the lock was ready, so off we went. As we approached the bridge, the channel gets narrower and so the flow got faster and we opened up the throttles. Keeping clear of the strong flow on the right, we all made it into the lock safely.
In the lock Tophyl’s engine started to surge again, a periodic fault with this engine so as we left the lock, we pulled over to tie up just before the swing bridge. A cruise length of a couple of hundred yards.
So as the others left to shelter from the precipitation. Yes it was raining again. The skipper of Tophyl started to investigate the engine problem. Now where’s that lump hammer!!
Mon 28th April
Cruising at last!
Only an odd patter of rain drops overnight and this morning dawned warm, cloudy but still. After a quick run around the town we were off at around 10am through the swing bridge.
We have a new additional crew member on Arwyn so she was broken in gently with winding down and up the barrier on the swing bridge.
The engine seemed to be behaving itself after a good telling off last night but we will see!
The weather continued to improve and by lunchtime a touch of warm sunshine was coming through. We arrived at Kintbury and did the usual housekeeping tasks of watering and “dewatering” the boats. Then we moved off to find a mooring spot and found one a bit further along about 40 feet from the main railway line. Great for train watchers amongst Tophyl’s crew.
Over lunch the heavens opened as we endured the first of a number of thunderstorms. We moved off to find water coming over the top of many lock gates and in places it was running over the towpath into adjacent bogs. It looked like this had been happening for some time as it was going down defined paths.
We finally arrived in Hungerford and managed to get 3 boats into 2 spaces, with 1 moored alongside in the area by the town bridge and trip boat.
The 2 spare crew members, who had been working hard all day doing the lock work, went off on a quick reccy for some food and came back with a massive Chinese meal for 2 which easily fed 4. On the plus side it had massive chicken sweet & sour balls and a pancake roll the size of a Swiss roll BUT on the minus, no prawn crackers. Some people are never happy!
As we settled in for the night we received messages from friends and the CRT stoppages and restrictions service that the K&A was first closed at County lock in Reading, which was again being overtopped by water, and then all the way from Newbury lock to County lock due to rising water levels.
Our decision to move the boats overland from Reading to Newbury on Saturday was apparently becoming more and more the right thing to have done. One friend even said we were “just in time” boaters!
Tomorrow Great Bedwin beckons.
Tues 29th April
Drip, drip drop little April showers!
Actually after rain first thing it brighten up until more showers arrived around 2pm and lasted until around 3pm when arrived and tied up in Great Bedwin, when it naturally stopped.
We were aided to get up this morning by a man standing in the rain on the canal bridge ringing a handbell, then doing a bit of oh yea, oh yea and calling all good commoners to attend the town hall at 9am. At that time the Counstable sends off The Tithingmen, who have Tutti Poles, to visit the commoners of the town to receive a tythe (now a kiss from the lady of the house) who gets an orange in return from the Orangeman. They might also get given a drink. This takes till 9pm as they have to visit 99 homes. And at lunch the attend the Hogtide lunch but do not stay for the speeches. What’s it all about? Haven’t a clue, but it started before 1688. Probably just a good excuse to get a bit merry!
After all that excitement, we just had time for a bit of shopping, the rain to stop and for us to get going at 11am. As we started, it got brighter and warmer and we managed to dispense with coats and jumpers for a while.
There is a lot of water in the canal, with water going over the top and bottom gates in places, even though it looks like many of the bye washes have recently been renewed. At Little Bedwyn, it took 4 of us to get a bottom gate open due to the amount of water coming over the top gate.
Now sitting at Great Bedwyn and looking to go off for a walk. What can we find here in quaint English customs?
Wed 30th April
The sun has got it’s hat on. Hip hip hurrah!
Yes we have boated all day today with the sun out and NO rain! It’s really quite pleasant cruising in the Spring sunshine through the English countryside. We must do it more often.
We left our moorings this morning at Great Bedwyn at 10.30 after we managed to get on to the water point and sanitary station, which had been blocked by a wide scruffy live aboard since around 6pm the night before.
Prior to leaving we had a discussion with a couple in a wide narrowboat who were planning to have it lifted out in September and take it to Bruges, Belgium, for the winter and then explore France next year. They were only 4 weeks into their adventure having bought the boat and started living on her 4 weeks ago at Devizes. Good luck to them.
We followed the large scruffy boat up the cut but they and us were soon into a rhythm of sorts until we got to Crofton pumping station level where we were held up by another live aboard, which was filling with drinking water at the water point just above the first lock. What a strange and silly location for it. So once he had returned to our level and we had got out of his way as he poled it past our location, we broke the journey and went up to the pumping station for an ice cream.
When we returned we started the last locks going up and finally reached the summit level and disappeared into Bruce tunnel, which is pleasantly wide, high, straight and dry. Just past Burbage wharf we pulled in and called it a day. Nice location shame about the trains, which we can hear but not see says the train spotter amongst us!!
So all in all, a good day. Only 4 locks and 5 miles to go until we reach Pewsey wharf and join the others arriving to slip in tomorrow and Friday.
Welcome and safe journey to all those joining us soon. We look forward to meeting you soon.
The summit achieved. Time for celebration.
An interesting way to paint your boat!
Thur 1st May
(Apologies if this is posted a day late but I didn’t have a bean of a mobile radio signal near Wilcot, just after reaching Pewsey wharf.)
Oh no. It’s raining again!
After a quiet night. Not even being disturbed by the sound of trains passing a few feet away up the embankment, we woke to light rain and the sound of water running off the boat and dripping into the canal.
At the appointed time we started off towards the top lock of the Avon side of the canal, which descends ultimately to Bath and Bristol.
As we enter the lock we have a slight rearrangement of tasks i.e. sending on crew to fill the next lock. We soon get into the swing of doing the last 4 locks, before the cruise the first few miles of the 15 mile pound to arrive, at the starting location for many WBOC members attending the anniversary event, at Pewsey wharf.
Arriving at the bottom of the 4 lock flight, Arwyn’s crew were going to go off walking around the pretty village of Wooton Rivers but were put off walking by (a) the rain, but by (b) that there were no visitor moorings.
So all 3 boats proceeded on with the cruise, playing “Spot the Pillbox” to amuse the crew of Arwyn until Tophyl suddenly snagged what felt like a plastic bag on her propeller. On tipping up the engine, another advantage of these great little boats over having to remove a weed hatch on a narrow boat, we found some strong plastic netting and hessian around the prop.
It appears to match that of the “reed sausages” that CRT are trying to stabilise the banks with along many stretches of canals these days, this pound being no exception. Hopefully this is not the sign of things to come as the reads establish and the hessian and plastic netting decays in sunlight etc.
Once we got going again, it was not far to Pewsey wharf, where we arrived at the same time as Haricot, one of the first of the new modern design of Beaver, was launching.
Already launched were Bobbles and Wilderness Wanderer.
We pulled in to much handshaking and hugs.
And that my friends is the end of our journey to the forthcoming 25th anniversary celebrations of the Wilderness Boat Owners Club.
Look out for details of how that event progresses in another notice. That is as long as I can get a mobile signal!
PS As I write the last few words, the sun has come out. Hopefully that will continue throughout the whole weekend.